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  • Writer's picturePetra

The Pomodoro Technique: A Practical Tool to Manage Cognitively Demanding Tasks

There are a plethora of strategies that a person can use to help manage problematic aspects of ADHD. One such strategy is the Pomodoro Technique. This time management method can be particularly useful for those with ADHD, especially when facing tasks that require a substantial cognitive effort such as studying, doing taxes, or administrative tasks.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique was developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. The term 'Pomodoro' is the Italian word for 'tomato,' a nod to the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo used as a student. The basic premise of the technique is straightforward: work on a task for a specified amount of time, say 25 minutes, then take a short break of around five minutes. This cycle is referred to as one 'Pomodoro.' After completing four 'Pomodoros', take a longer break, typically 15-30 minutes.

The Pomodoro Technique can be particularly effective for individuals with ADHD for several reasons. It provides a clear structure, promotes focus by reducing the perceived length of a task, and the regular breaks can help to manage mental fatigue and allow for movement breaks.

Adapting the Pomodoro Technique for ADHD

Though the standard Pomodoro session is 25 minutes of work followed by a five-minute break, it's important to understand that everyone's optimal focus period differs. The goal is not to fit into a rigid framework, but to customise the method to best suit your unique needs.

If 25 minutes seems too daunting, or you find your attention wavering before the timer rings, it's perfectly fine to start with shorter intervals, say 10 or 15 minutes. On the other hand, if you feel you can stay engaged for longer periods, feel free to extend your work time. You are likely to find that the demands of the task require different time targets. A really challenging task may need to stop after 25 minutes, while you might be able to work for 45 minutes or longer on an easier task.

But, beware of hyperfocus setting in, because you still have to stop for the breaks if this technique is going to work for you. I see the Pomodoro Technique as a way to train your brain to start a task because it is broken down into time periods and therefore can feel less prohibitive. Your brain has to believe that you will stop for breaks, or it may stop cooperating and not allow you to start next time. The key is to find your 'sweet spot'— the time period that allows you to be optimally productive without causing undue mental strain and without falling into unhelpful hyperfocus.

The length of your break periods can be adjusted, just like the work periods. While five minutes may work for some, others may need a bit more time to refresh their minds. Experiment with different break lengths to find what rejuvenates you best, whether it's a quick stretch, a brief walk, a cup of tea, or jumping jacks (for a dopamine boost). Make sure you set the timer to ring at the end of your break. I'm sure you can imagine how easy it would be to become side-tracked in that time and forget to return to your task.

I also suggest that a notepad is present during the work stage, and when your brain tells you to get up and do something else, you write that down on the notepad: "Thanks Brain! I'll get onto that in my break".

Implementing the Pomodoro Technique

Implementing this technique doesn't require any sophisticated tools. You just need a timer, and these days, your phone or computer can do the job perfectly.

  1. Identify the task you want to work on.

  2. Set your timer for your chosen period (let's say 25 minutes).

  3. Work on your task until the timer rings.

  4. Take a short break (set your timer for this also).

  5. Repeat the cycle. After completing four cycles, take a longer break if you wanting to continue working on it.

Remember, this method is about fostering focus, not racing against the clock or trying to get everything done in one session. Don't be disheartened if you find it challenging initially. Be patient with yourself.

Final Thoughts

The Pomodoro Technique can be a useful tool in managing the challenges of ADHD. It offers a structured yet flexible approach to tasks that can seem overwhelming. It's a reminder that productivity isn't about working relentlessly, but working smartly with respect to our individual capabilities and needs.

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